NFL Nation: Bart Starr

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The last time Bart Starr Jr. was in Green Bay, he came with encouraging news about his father's health.

[+] EnlargeBart Starr
AP Photo Bart Starr's Ice Bowl game-winning touchdown is part of NFL lore.
Speaking at a charity function on Dec. 8 for Rawhide Boys Ranch, a home for troubled youth that Bart Starr Sr. helped start nearly 50 years ago, the son of the Hall of Fame quarterback said his father had just taken his first steps since he sustained multiple strokes and a heart attack in September.

On his 81st birthday Friday, Starr's recovery, however, remains difficult.

"We would like to see faster progression, but these situations are going to be very challenging," Starr Jr. said. "Dad turns 81 years old [on Friday]. That's just the reality. It's going to be a tough battle, and we're trying to see what we can do to assist his progress every day."

Starr Jr. said he plans to attend Sunday's playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field. It's the first Packers-Cowboys' playoff game in Green Bay since the Ice Bowl, when Starr Sr. beat the Cowboys on a last-second quarterback sneak to win the 1967 NFL Championship. Starr Jr. attended that game as a 10-year-old.
Bart Starr AP Photo Bart Starr convinced Vince Lombardi that a keeper was the way to go on the Ice Bowl's winning play.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The game -- the play, really -- became synonymous with Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and the rest of the Vince Lombardi-era Green Bay Packers.

For most of their post-playing lives, everywhere they went, the first thing people brought up was the Ice Bowl. Starr's 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown in the final seconds, Kramer's goal-line block and, of course, the bitter-cold weather.

Forty-seven years after 1967 NFL Championship victory over the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 at Lambeau Field, it remains an indelible moment in team and league history and in the participants' lives.

Some of those stories and pictures will be regurgitated this week given that the Packers and Cowboys will play their first playoff game in Green Bay since that New Year's Eve 1967 game.

But what about the families?

This is their story, and their connection to the Ice Bowl.

Bart Starr Jr. had just turned 10 years old. He was in the stands sitting with the two sons of backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski on that minus-13 degree day.

"Unfortunately we were sitting in the wrong part of the stadium to watch my dad's quarterback sneak,” Bart Jr. said in a phone interview this week. "That was in the South end zone, and we were way up in the North end.

"There was 16 seconds to go, and we knew it was doubtful that they could get off another play if that one wasn't successful. Today, would a team throw it, knowing they would get at least two shots at it? Back then teams ran the ball inside the 10-yard line. The way they lined up, it looked as though we would probably run the ball. Our visibility was terrible. We were watching the action, but we were also watching the fans' reaction down there because we figured that might give us a clue to whether we scored or not."

That Bart Jr. was still in the stands for the game's end was unusual.

"A lot of us took our children home at halftime," said Barbara Knippel, who was married to Jerry Kramer at the time. "Most of us had another one at home. That was Dan for me. He was only 3, so he was at home with a babysitter, and we all took the older ones home because of the cold. My oldest son, Tony, did have frostbite on the cheeks, and then all of us, the wives, went back."

At the time, none of them had any idea what this game would become in football lore.

"I think [the players] were just caught up in the moment," said Bart Jr., who after the game made his way to the locker room, where he recalled seeing little jubilation. "They were going for their third consecutive NFL championship, and that delivered it, and then their second consecutive Super Bowl. Playing for three NFL championships in a row would have carried enough significance that they wouldn't be thinking about how this game would be looked at years from now."

And after the game, it was like any other postgame evening.

"We didn't go home ever after games,” said Kramer's ex-wife, Barbara. "We always went out with each other, a group of us. It was Fuzzy Thurston, Jimmy Taylor, Henry Jordan, Bob Skoronski, Forrest Gregg and the wives. I don't remember where we went that night, but it was nothing different. All we were doing was celebrating that we had won."

For Daniel Kramer, that 3-year-old kid at the time, his indoctrination into the Ice Bowl came years later.

"I had no clue about this," he recalled. "In fourth grade, my teacher at Kennedy Elementary [in Green Bay], Mr. Gross, made me aware of it by singling me out and making me one of his favorite students, and I just rolled with it."

Alicia Kramer, Jerry's daughter from his second marriage, wouldn't be born until 5 years after the Ice Bowl. She never saw her father play in the NFL, yet the Ice Bowl is part of her life, too.

"I hear a lot of men tell me they wore No. 64 in college or high school or pee-wee football because, 'I wanted to be like Jerry Kramer in the Ice Bowl,'" she said. "That's really what I hear most about. And if I'm talking to Cowboys fans, it's about how dad started off early on his block."

Of this group, only Bart Jr. will attend Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. He wishes his dad could make it, but he says the recovery has been slow from the multiple strokes and heart attack Bart Sr., who turns 81 on Friday, sustained last fall.

Barbara, 78, still lives in Green Bay and has remarried. She has six season tickets but usually gives them away. She's been to hundreds of games, but one, the Ice Bowl, always seems to come up in conversation.

"It's just shocking sometimes that it's still so popular around town," she said. "There's pictures of it everywhere. I go into a restaurant, and I see a picture of it on the wall. Somebody once said, it must be odd that everywhere you go, you see your ex-husband's picture."

Said Daniel Kramer: "The Ice Bowl, it's always there."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 31-24 victory against the New York Jets on Sunday at Lambeau Field:
  • If fans in the stands or those watching on TV were in a panic over the Jets' apparent 36-yard touchdown pass that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter, the Packers were not. To a man, every player interviewed in the locker room said the same thing -- that they heard the officials blow the whistle to grant the Jets a timeout shortly before the snap. Cornerback Tramon Williams, who was in coverage when Geno Smith heaved the ball to receiver Jeremy Kerley on the dead play, said, "I heard it before the snap. I heard it during the play, too. I think they might have blown it four or five times. So I heard it then."
  • Nelson
  • Receiver Jordy Nelson doesn't normally come to the media auditorium for his postgame interviews, but after catching nine passes for a career-high 209 yards, that's where he found himself. And Nelson, who does not like the spotlight, said: "I’m going to hate this, so go ahead," as he walked to the podium. Nelson posted the fourth-highest single-game receiving total in team history.
  • It was alumni day at Lambeau Field, with dozens of ex-Packers players on the field before the game and at halftime. But there was one major absence -- Bart Starr, who sustained a mild stroke last week. "We obviously miss Bart Starr here today," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Bart, we're thinking about you."
  • With 346 yards passing, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers moved past Starr and into second on the team's career passing yardage list with 24,732. He trails only Brett Favre. Said Rodgers: "It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with him. You know, thinking about him today a lot as it was alumni day, and I got to see Willie [Davis] and Fuzzy [Thurston] and actually some guys that I played with, which starts to age you a little bit. But I was definitely thinking about Bart and I wish he’d been here. I wish him the best. We're thinking and praying for him. Personally, you know him and I have become close over the last few years and it's been hard seeing him go through this."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Two more central figures in the Brett Favre story had their say on Wednesday.

And, just like everyone else who has spoken on the topic since Monday, when it was announced that Favre will go into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his number retired next July, both general manager Ted Thompson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers had nothing but good things to say about it.

Exactly six years ago to the day that he signed the trade papers that sent Favre to the New York Jets after 16 seasons in Green Bay, Thompson agreed that the time was right to welcome the former Green Bay Packers quarterback back to the family.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Jay Drowns/Sporting News/Getty ImagesBrett Favre's number will be retired by the Green Bay Packers in 2015.
"I think it's great," Thompson said Wednesday. "There's a certain feeling, I think, that everybody associated with the Packers and just fans and shareholders and things like that that feel it’s the right thing. It feels comfortable that we now have a plan and we're going to do things a certain way. He'll be back. I think it's great to have him back."

The relationship between Thompson and Favre, believed by many to be contentious, might have been somewhat misunderstood. On Monday, Favre revealed that he and Thompson exchanged messages occasionally, "even back when I was playing elsewhere," Favre said.

When asked about those messages, Thompson said: "Well, I mean what he's done for this place is remarkable. I was here in '92 when Ron [Wolf] first acquired Brett, so we said we sort of grew up with the Packers. And he's a good guy, great football player and good teammate. Like I say, we're just, we're happy all that other stuff is kind of been put aside, and let's go forward with the relationship."

Rodgers, too, has played a role in getting the Packers and Favre back together. The two appeared on stage together at the NFL Honors program in 2013, and that seemed to help cool whatever tensions may have existed.

"I've kind of been on the forefront of getting this thing done, you know, in my own way," Rodgers said. "I wanted to make sure my voice was out there and behind Brett coming back. I think it's important to bring him back into the fold. It was a great thing to be able to announce that and retire his number and put his number in the Packer Hall of Fame, which is obvious, of course it's going to happen. He's one of the greatest Packers of all-time and one of the greatest NFL players of all-time. It's good to get him back here and hopefully get him here in the fall as well."
Bart StarrJohn Biever/Icon SMI
We have a winner. The voters picked Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl as the Packers' most memorable play, and I applaud their selection.

Score: Packers 21, Cowboys 17
Date: Dec. 31, 1967 Site: Lambeau Field

From the moment we began soliciting nominations for the Green Bay Packers' three most memorable plays, Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl was mentioned more often than any other play.

So it should come as no surprise that it was the runaway winner in the voting.

Few NFL franchises have one defining play like that, but Starr's sneak ranks up there with the Immaculate Reception and The Catch.

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Which is the most memorable play in Packers history?

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When the voting closed on Thursday, Starr's play finished as a landslide winner over Brett Favre's 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison in Super Bowl XXXI and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings to help clinch Super Bowl XLV.

What was most interesting in researching this project was that there was no consensus on the most memorable plays from Super Bowls XXXI and XLV. There was just as much support for Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that helped him win the Super Bowl XXXI MVP. Likewise in Super Bowl XLV, strong cases could be made for Nick Collins' interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter and Clay Matthews' forced fumble that thwarted a potential go-ahead drive by the Steelers in the fourth quarter.

Unlike Starr's sneak, no one play won Super Bowls XXXI or XVL.

And that is why Starr's play was so special.

As we wrap up this project, it's also worth noting some of the other plays that were considered, thanks in part to input from readers and other longtime observers of the team.

Among the others:

  • Don Hutson's first touchdown, an 83-yarder in 1935.
  • Dave Robinson drilling Don Meredith, leading to Tom Brown's interception to beat the Cowboys in the 1966 NFL Championship.
  • Herb Adderley's interception against the Lions in a 1962 regular-season game to set up the game-winning field goal in a 9-7 victory.
  • Chester Marcol's blocked field goal that he ran in for a touchdown to beat the Bears in 1980.
  • Don Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe for a 14-yard touchdown pass in 1989 against the Bears in what is known as the Instant Replay Game.
  • Favre to Sharpe in Detroit for a 40-yard touchdown with 55 seconds remaining in a 1994 playoff game.
  • Antonio Freeman's "Monday Night Miracle" catch to beat the Vikings in 2000.
  • B.J. Raji's interception return for a touchdown against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game in 2011.
  • The "Fail Mary" play against the Seahawks in 2012.

The problem with some of those plays is they were either flukes or meaningless plays in meaningless games. Oh, and there was one other play that a longtime Packers observer was convinced would be the most important play in team history if there more details about it were available. It was a punt, said to be nearly 90 yards by Verne Lewellen in a 1929 game against the New York Giants. That punt pinned the Giants deep in their own territory and helped secure a victory that was the difference between the teams in the standings (there were no playoffs at that time). The Packers, with a 12-0-1 record, won the championship over the Giants, whose only loss was to the Packers. It gave the Packers their first championship and, because it happened in New York, helped the Packers capture the attention of the powerful New York media. However, reports from that game do not clearly describe Lewellen's punt.

In the end, Starr's sneak is the play that has been, and likely will continue to be, the most memorable.
Andre RisonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports 
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Green Bay Packers history. The others are: Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that helped clinch the game. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.

Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21
Date: Jan. 26, 1997 Site: Louisiana Superdome

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Which is the most memorable play in Packers history?

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    67%
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    20%
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Discuss (Total votes: 43,163)

You can argue that the most memorable play from Super Bowl XXXI was Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter -- and many of you on Twitter did. After all, Howard was the game's MVP.

Or you can make a case for Antonio Freeman's 81-yard touchdown -- which at the time was the longest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history -- although none of you did.

But the ever-lasting memory from the Packers' third Super Bowl title was quarterback Brett Favre running like a wild-man, sans helmet, after his 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage.

Favre, sensing a blitz from the Patriots, changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Rison, who joined the Packers midseason, ran a post route and found himself wide open down the seam.

Favre later revealed the play was rooted in something he had seen from the San Francisco 49ers when he was watching Super Bowl highlights during the week leading up to the game. He saw Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIV on a play the 49ers called "59 Razor." The Packers adopted it and called it "29 Razor." It was an audible to be used against a blitz that called for maximum blocking protection and only two receivers out in patters.

"Lo and behold, second play of the game, I checked to 29 Razor and hit Andre Rison for a touchdown," Favre said years after the game. "So when you see me running with my helmet off, I'm thinking, 'Can you believe I checked to this play?' It was amazing. And it worked, which was even more amazing."
 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Consider this Aaron Rodgers week on the Green Bay Packers' page here at ESPN.com.

Rodgers
The 30-year-old, Super Bowl-winning, MVP-winning quarterback spent a half hour last week talking to us about a wide variety of topics.

Each day this week, we will examine a different one.

One of Rodgers' most interesting answers was to a question about his relationship with legendary Packers quarterback Bart Starr. Rodgers recently was given the Bart Starr Award, which was presented at the Super Bowl to an NFL player who displays outstanding character in leadership.

Rodgers' predecessor, Brett Favre, also had a close relationship with Starr.

So the question was this: Given that Rodgers and Starr are close, and Favre and Starr were close, is it important that Rodgers and Favre have the same kind of relationship?

"I think so," Rodgers said. "I think that'd be important."

Rodgers took that a step further.

"I've always thought it would be fun to do something, the three of us, some sort of sit down where we could all talk about our experiences," Rodgers said. "I'm sure that's three interesting perspectives on this place and the appreciation for it. But Bart's been a great mentor and a great guy. It was a blast to win his award, and I think Brett's ready to be welcomed back the way he deserves to be welcomed back, and that will be exciting."

The idea might not be so far-fetched. In fact, it has been discussed internally at Lambeau Field, but so far scheduling issues have prevented it from taking place.

Coming tomorrow: Rodgers on the Packers getting bigger, more intimidating.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can sense a change in Aaron Rodgers even after spending just 30 minutes with the Green Bay Packers quarterback in a small room adjacent to the Lambeau Field locker room.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsGreen Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, seen here in February, appears to be more relaxed now than in offseasons past.
Maybe it's because he turned 30 in December.

Or because he missed nearly half of last season due to a freak collarbone injury.

Or because he's found happiness in a new relationship.

Whatever prompted the change -- subtle as it may be -- Rodgers appears to be in a better place with the celebrity that comes from being one of the NFL's most recognizable players.

Asked what prompted the change, Rodgers said: "Just thinking about what's really important and what to spend energy thinking about. I'm tired of worrying about what other people think of me or my relationships."

Wearing a Milwaukee Bucks T-shirt -- but not discussing his reported interest in becoming an investor in the team -- Rodgers appeared at ease Monday during a lengthy interview on the eve of the team's mandatory minicamp.

Of course, it's easy to relax in June, when there are only three days of work left in the offseason before the month-long break that precedes training camp.

"You're not thinking about going home and studying film," Rodgers said.

But it appears to be more than that.

Rodgers showed little or no reluctance to answer questions, other than about his possible business interest in the Bucks.

"I do love the Bucks, though," Rodgers said with smile.

And he did not appear to be as guarded as perhaps he has been at other times in his career.

We will bring you some of Rodgers' comments in a series of posts over the next several days and weeks, but it has to be a good sign for the Packers that their most important player appears to be in a good frame of mind heading into the season.

Among the things he discussed were what he likes about this team, what he would do if he were in tight end Jermichael Finley's shoes, how the offense might be different this season and a sit-down he would like to have with both Brett Favre and Bart Starr together.

Back to the more relaxed Rodgers for a moment. For the record, he said he did not know he and girlfriend Olivia Munn were being photographed when they shared a public embrace recently.

"But," he said, "I'm not going to let that stuff bother me in ways that it used to."

Storied pasts loom over Cowboys, Packers

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- As the Cowboys walk to the team meeting room every day, they are met with pictures of Dallas' five Super Bowl winners. Each collage has a team photo and pictures of smiling players, coaches and executives from winning NFL championships.

At Lambeau Field, the photos from the great moments in Packers history line the wall from the tunnel to the locker room. When the stadium was renovated years ago, they took a row of old bricks and moved it to the new tunnel so players can say they walk over the same ground as the greats who played at Lambeau Field.

With a loss Sunday, though, either team will need even more help to just make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Aaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaCowboys QB Tony Romo, right, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers know the burden that comes with playing for franchises trying to recapture past glory.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys are constantly chasing ghosts from past teams.

The Packers and Cowboys have combined for 18 NFL championships (Green Bay 13, Dallas five) and nine Super Bowls (Green Bay four, Dallas five). They produced one of the NFL’s iconic games -- the Ice Bowl -- in the 1967 NFC Championship. They were coached by legends in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. They rekindled the rivalry in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs from 1993 to 1995.

The current teams carry something of a burden with them because of the successful pasts.

“We always look at it as a sense of pride and energy to tap into,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We think it’s very important to have that and recognize it and honor it, so I always refer to it as there’s pride in the bricks of Lambeau Field and it’s something we need to tap into. We talk to our current team about it and how important it is to win and represent the Green Bay Packers the right way.”

Jason Garrett does not talk about the expectations laid out from the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He talks about the standard those players and teams set.

“You want to be in a place where there’s a high standard for achievement,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a good thing. That brings the best out in people. What we try to do each and every day is be our best. Come to work as players and coaches and put our best foot forward and get ready for our challenges each week and again, embrace the past. That’s a good thing. ... That drives us. That’s part of what drives us to achieve, really, each and every day, and certainly each season.”

Tony Romo is constantly measured against Staubach and Aikman. Aaron Rodgers is measured against Bart Starr and Brett Favre, but he has the Super Bowl ring that Romo is still looking for, having beaten the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV.

Rodgers has 23 teammates on the roster with a Super Bowl ring.

Romo hopes one day to have his own, so he and his teammates can have their pictures on the wall holding the Lombardi Trophy.

“You want to be a part of a storied franchise,” Romo said. “It just makes it important. You want a challenge. You want it to matter, and you want it to be important. That’s what’s great about this organization and great about our fans.”
HOUSTON -- Right now the Texans' Gary Kubiak has a 61-62 career record as a head coach. He is in his eighth season with Houston, having been hired in 2006.

Kubiak
Team owner Bob McNair has shown patience with Kubiak, who's had two 6-10 seasons -- his first year with the team and his fifth. Until this year, when the Texans embarked on a franchise-record losing streak that currently sits at nine, Kubiak had made steady improvement after the most recent 6-10 season.

This kind of patience doesn't exist anymore. It's been nearly two decades since the last example.

Thanks to Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Info for poring through the list of longest-tenured coaches for me. Of the 87 men who have at least eight years of experience as an NFL head coach, 24 have a career record under .500 -- including Kubiak.

Among those with at least eight years experience and a losing record, Kubiak is one of four who spent that whole time with one team. The other three all returned for a ninth year.

John McKay, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in his first season, only coached the Bucs to three winning seasons. He had a losing record in his eighth year and went 6-10 in 1984, his final year coaching.

Bart Starr began coaching the Green Bay Packers in 1975 and went 4-10. He only coached two winning teams, one in the strike-shortened 1982 season. That was Starr's eighth season with the Packers and his team made the playoffs. After an 8-8 record in his ninth, he was fired.

Wayne Fontes had four winning seasons with the Detroit Lions from 1988-96. One came in 1995 when the Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs but lost. Fontes led the Lions to the NFC Championship game in 1991, but his subpar seasons meant he was constantly on the hot seat.

Falcons overcome Matt Ryan's bad day

November, 18, 2012
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Matt Ryan Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan threw five picks and no touchdown passes, yet the Falcons still came out with a win.

ATLANTA -- His on-field performance was not sharp, but Matt Ryan's memory sure was.

As he walked out of his news conference after the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Arizona Cardinals 23-19 at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, I asked the quarterback if he had ever thrown five interceptions in a game before.

The wheels turned for all of about three seconds before the answer came.

"No, that’s it," said Ryan, who had thrown only seven interceptions in the season’s first nine games. "Let’s keep in that way."

In a five-year NFL career, Ryan never had thrown more than three interceptions in a game and he only threw three a couple of times. At Boston College, William Penn Charter High School in Philadelphia and even in youth leagues, Ryan never had a five-interception game.

It truly was an historic day for Ryan, on many levels. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan became the first quarterback to throw five interceptions with no touchdowns and still win since Green Bay’s Bart Starr in 1967.

"Good company to be in," Ryan said with a slight laugh when told of his new place in the record books.

Ryan and the Falcons can afford to chuckle just a little bit about this one. They’re 9-1 and they know they got lucky.

They quickly fell behind 13-0 as Ryan threw three interceptions in the first quarter and the offense never got into much of a rhythm. Against most teams (maybe as many as 30 other teams), Ryan and the Falcons would have been blown out of the building.

But they were playing the Cardinals, who started the season 4-0 but have fallen apart with quarterback Kevin Kolb injured. They started John Skelton and yanked him in favor of third-string rookie Ryan Lindley, who had never taken an NFL snap before Sunday, when they held a 13-3 second-quarter lead. When’s the last time you heard of a team yanking a quarterback when it held a 10-point lead?

Let’s turn to noted receiver/philosopher Roddy White to truly put this one in perspective.

"The Cardinals are a good football team," White said. "No, I mean they’re a good defensive football team."

Say what you want about White, who draws a lot of criticism for his outspoken nature. But, more often than not, the man cuts straight to the point.

The Cardinals, at least right now, are a horrible offensive football team. Atlanta turned the ball over six times (running back Jason Snelling also lost a fumble), but Arizona managed only one touchdown. Skelton and Lindley combined for 41 net passing yards.

You can debate which of the three quarterbacks had the worst day, but Ryan was the only one who threw an interception. The Falcons never considered benching him and the record will show Ryan led the 20th fourth-quarter comeback of his career and his fourth this season. But Ryan, who completed 28 of 46 passes for 301 yards, will be the first to tell you he didn’t have a good day.

"I think that there are a lot of hats you wear as a quarterback," Ryan said. "Part of it is player and part of it is keeping everybody on the same page and being relaxed."

Ryan kept his composure and rebounded well enough for the Falcons to win -- this time.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Babineaux
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireJonathan Babineaux returned a fumble for a touchdown which helped dig the Falcons out of an early hole.
"We can’t turn the ball over the way we turned the ball over, obviously," said coach Mike Smith, who clinched his fifth consecutive winning season. "You can’t be minus-four in turnovers and, normally, you’re not going to win games. That doesn’t happen very often in the National Football League."

It doesn’t happen often because most NFL teams aren’t nearly as bad as the Cardinals on offense. But let’s give Atlanta’s defense, which held receiver Larry Fitzgerald to one catch for seven yards, some credit.

"They were put in some very difficult situations, in terms of field position and were able to step up and make some plays," Smith said.

Although Ryan’s interceptions frequently handed the Cardinals good field position, the defense generally was able to limit Arizona to field goals or got the Cardinals off the field. No play was bigger -- or more bizarre -- than the third play of Lindley’s first drive.

As Lindley was about to throw a pass, veteran defensive end John Abraham, who finished with two sacks, hit his arm and forced a fumble. A lot of Arizona and Atlanta players stood around, thinking the result of the play was an incomplete pass. But defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux saw the ball on the ground and alertly realized no whistles had blown. Babineaux scooped the ball up and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown that cut Arizona’s lead to 13-10 and put the Falcons back into the game.

"Our defense won the game for us," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "They bailed us out a bunch of times."

It should be noted that three of Ryan’s interceptions came on tipped passes, but the Falcons know they’ll have to be more efficient if they’re going to have any shot at winning in the postseason for the first time in the Smith/Ryan era.

"It says a lot about how we have that never (say) die attitude," Babineaux said. "But, at the same time, we’ve got to get back to playing Falcon football. You’re not going to turn the ball over like that and win many times."

Final Word: NFC East

October, 19, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Blasts from the past: Yes, it's a passing league, as you hear all the time. But the Washington Redskins haven't got the memo. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (379) and rookie running back Alfred Morris (538) have combined for 917 rushing yards in Washington's first six games. That's the highest combined rushing yardage total by two rookie teammates through six games in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And it goes back further than this for the Redskins. Washington as a team has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of its last 12 games. The second-longest such streak in the league is two games, by the New York Giants and the St. Louis Rams. In conclusion, the Redskins like to run the ball, and for many reasons pose a different game-planning challenge than any other team the Giants have faced or will face this season.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Paul Frederiksen/US PresswireWashington QB Robert Griffin III has a chance to earn a rare achievement with a win over the Giants on Sunday.
Upstart vs. champ: If the Redskins win, Griffin would be the fourth rookie quarterback to defeat a defending Super Bowl MVP quarterback head-to-head. Really interesting list. Colt McCoy of the Browns beat Drew Brees and the Saints in 2010. Dieter Brock of the Rams beat Joe Montana and the 49ers in 1985. And of course, Kent Nix of the Steelers beat Bart Starr and the Packers in 1967. But seriously, no way you clicked on this blog today expecting a Dieter Brock note. Guy was 34 in 1985, but it was his only year in the league.

Burgundy kryptonite: In two games against the Redskins last year (both losses), Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw four interceptions and no touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Information tells us that Washington is one of six teams against which Manning has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. The others are Tennessee, Minnesota, Chicago, Baltimore and Buffalo.

Giants can run, too: Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is the only player in the league who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his last two games. The last Giant to rush for 100 or more in at least three games in a row was Tiki Barber in 2006. Bradshaw has 16 rushes of at least 10 yards so far this year, in 92 attempts. Last year, he had 16 such rushes in 171 attempts. The Giants' offensive line is a much better run-blocking unit than it was a year ago. Their average yards per rush before first contact is 2.75, which is the fifth-best figure in the league. Last year, the Giants' average yards per rush before first contact was 1.89, which was second-worst in the league.

Got to go deep: Last year, on throws that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo posted a 53.2 completion percentage, 21.6 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns and only one interception. This year on such deep throws, Romo is 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) for 8.5 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. The two bits of good news on this are that the Cowboys' offensive line looked much better last week in Baltimore and could start to give Romo more time to throw, and that Carolina's pass defense is allowing a 54.5 completion percentage on throws 20 or more yards downfield -- the second-worst such mark in the NFL.
Steve Young's winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in the 1998 postseason stands above all San Francisco 49ers memories against the Green Bay Packers.

It can't fully overshadow the Packers' regular-season dominance in the series, however.

Any 49ers fan should find the chart appalling.

The Packers have won the last nine regular-season meetings between the teams, scoring at least 30 points in five of them.

Losing at Green Bay in Week 1 this season would saddle the 49ers with 10 consecutive defeats in a regular-season series for the third time in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The team lost 13 in a row to the Baltimore Colts from 1962-68. It lost 10 straight to the Los Angeles Rams from 1970-75.

The last time San Francisco claimed a regular-season victory over Green Bay was Nov. 4, 1990.

Joe Montana was the 49ers' quarterback, Brett Favre was in college, Aaron Rodgers was 6 years old and Bart Starr was the Packers' all-time passing yardage leader. Also that day, a 26-year-old Jim Harbaugh was completing 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards, one touchdown and a 105.9 NFL passer rating for Chicago during a 26-6 victory at Tampa Bay.

Enough is enough.

Thanksgiving Feast: 1962 grudge match

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
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The buildup to our NFC North Thanksgiving Feast is going to short, intense and full of distractions. This week would have been busy even without Thursday's matchup between the 10-0 Green Bay Packers and the 7-3 Detroit Lions, so as of this moment I'm declaring complete and total pandemonium in the ring.

[+] EnlargeBart Starr
AP File PhotoDetroit's Darris McCord, 78, and Roger Brown, 76, sack Green Bay's Bart Starr on Nov. 23, 1962. The Lions dealt Vince Lombardi's Packers their only loss of a championship season, sacking Starr 11 times.
As we monitor the Chicago Bears' quarterback transition and the health status of the Minnesota Vikings' star running back, we'll start our Packers-Lions coverage with the story of a rematch nearly 50 years in the making.

If you qualify for AARP membership, or if you watched Bob Costas' weekly essay Sunday night on NBC, you know the Packers and Lions played a Thanksgiving game under similar circumstances in 1962. The Packers entered the game undefeated at 10-0, but the Lions handed them their only loss of the season.

Many people consider the 1962 Packers the best team in franchise history and one of the best in the history of pro football. It had 10 future members of the Hall of Fame, including fullback Jim Taylor, right tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, center Jim Ringo, halfback Paul Hornung, safety Willie Wood and defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

But on November 23, 1962, the Lions handed them a decisive 26-14 defeat. They sacked Starr 11 times and intercepted him twice.

Monday, the Lions made several members from that team available via conference call. On that day, recalled Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt: "We were all out to prove to the world that we were as good or better than Green Bay."

(Sound familiar?)

History tells us the Lions were hardly slouches in those days. They won the NFL title in 1957 and won the Runner-Up game in 1960 and 1961. But after opening the 1962 season 3-0, the Lions lost to the Packers in a game that has gone down in franchise lore.

Jerry Green of the Detroit News recalled that game in detail this season. The short version: Leading 7-6 with less than a minute to play, the Lions called a pass play. Receiver Terry Barr slipped, and Adderley intercepted Milt Plum's pass to set up Hornung's game-winning field goal.

Tempers flared in the post-game locker room, and defensive tackle Roger Brown said Monday that the Lions had a "vendetta" against the Packers in the Thanksgiving rematch. Added Schmidt: "We always felt down deep that we were a better football team."

The Lions were well-versed in Packers' coach Vince Lombardi's offense, and defensive coordinator Don Shula worked with Schmidt to recognize each play.

"They basically ran six or seven plays off a couple different formations," Schmidt said. "By the formation, I could call a slant to where they were going to run. Our defensive line penetrated them so severely that their offensive line lost their poise."

Said Brown: "We were determined to get to Bart Starr. I don't think the German Luftwaffe could have stopped us that day."

The parallels for this year's game are interesting, if not completely relevant. The Packers are again 10-0, of course, and the Lions are quite eager to demonstrate they are, as Schmidt said, just as good. Like the 1962 team, today's Lions are built around a nasty defensive line. I'm not sure if Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh and company will register 11 sacks Thursday of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they'll be trying.

It's worth noting that the Packers rebounded from that 1962 loss to finish 13-1 and win the NFL title. The Lions finished 11-3 and made another trip to the Runner-Up game. If nothing else, it's nice to have a game this season that means something to everyone -- the teams, both sets of fans and the playoff race.

A look at Brady's no-interception streak

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
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How long has it been since Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an interception? The Jets were considered the team to beat in the AFC.

If that seems like a long time ago, you're right.

Brady
Brady hasn't thrown an interception since Week 6 against the Ravens, a stretch of 268 attempts. That ranks sixth all-time.

He would climb into second place with 27 more interception-free attempts Sunday night against the Packers.

Here's the list of longest streaks:
  • Bernie Kosar, 1990-91 for the Browns -- 308
  • Bart Starr, 1964-65 for the Packers -- 294
  • Jeff George, 1993-94 for the Colts and Falcons -- 279
  • Rich Gannon, 2001 for the Raiders -- 277
  • Jason Campbell, 2007-08 for the Redskins -- 271
  • Tom Brady, 2010 for the Patriots -- 268

Brady has tied the NFL record with six consecutive games of at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions. In his past eight games he has 19 TDs, zero interceptions and only two ratings under 100.

The Patriots have a league-leading plus-18 turnover ratio and haven't committed any in five straight games, which is an NFL record.

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